Photo: Mike1024 \ Wikimedia Commons

Not so green: Why is Warwick not cutting emissions?

In a bid to reduce environmental damage, Warwick University is currently embarking on a campaign to massively reduce their overall carbon emissions. The target is to reduce emissions by 60% by 2020, which is the highest target set by a university for 2020.

However, in a recent report by sustainability strategy consultancy Brite Green, it was revealed that Warwick’s carbon emissions only dropped by 2.7% in the 2013/14 academic year. The end result of this is that Warwick is currently not on track to meet its 60% carbon reduction target.

It’s fair to say that Warwick has a pretty poor history when it comes to becoming a more environmentally friendly institution. In the People & Planet 2015 University League tables, Warwick reached a dismal 129th place- granting the university a Fail award class. In particular, Warwick was given a 0% rating for carbon reduction by People & Planet and just 10% for carbon management. Its clear then that Warwick are having troubles with their carbon emissions– which makes their hugely ambitious 60% carbon emissions target all the more surprising.

How do you drive notable commercial growth, whilst also meeting ambitious carbon reduction targets?

However, this is not a problem just limited to Warwick. In fact, a staggering 76% of universities are set to miss their 2020 emissions targets. Only 3 universities out of 127 are on track to meet their 2020 carbon reduction targets, whilst 28 universities could end up exceeding their targets. It’s not looking great for the remaining 96 institutions, including Warwick, who could end up completely missing their goals by a long shot. As a response to these disappointing figures, almost a quarter of universities have now decided to reduce their individual emissions targets.

So what’s the reason for these utterly depressing statistics? Commercial growth is one important reason. Universities such as Warwick are always developing and expanding their campuses for example (especially with the marketisation of the university sector), which leads to higher carbon emissions overall. There could also be a failure to implement carbon and commercial strategies in many institutions. These two factors are significant drivers of carbon emissions outside of universities too. As Brite Green stated in their report,

“…the challenges universities face in delivering carbon reductions mirror those of the economy as a whole”.

This underlines the dilemma faced by universities such as Warwick and perhaps the entire economy itself:

How do you drive notable commercial growth, whilst also meeting ambitious carbon reduction targets?

The International Digital Lab. Photo: Jez Sutton \ Wikimedia Commons

This is a clearly a pressing problem for several institutions, as highlighted by Warwick’s minimal carbon reductions. It seems that striking a beneficial balance between both commercial growth and carbon reduction seems to be an impossible or unimportant task for the majority of universities In the UK.

There are several strategies institutions like Warwick can implement in order to turn things around however. They can explore potential new carbon reduction opportunities; review their current reduction plans; benchmark against other universities; assess the impact of commercial growth on carbon emissions and also review their 2020 target. The implementation of such strategies have led to overall positive outcomes, such as a reduction in emissions intensity each year since 2009.

There was one other positive story hiding away in Brite Green’s rather bleak report. Despite several failing to meet emissions targets, universities are improving efficiency within their estates, both in relation to income and floor area. Despite university sector income and floor space increasing over the past few years, an equivalent increase in emissions had not occurred. This means universities are becoming more efficient in regards to carbon emissions as they expand and build new estates.

Obviously, the importance of universities reaching their carbon reduction goals cannot be understated. Universities play a central role in addressing the challenge of climate change- whether it’s through research on climate science or taking a leadership role in carbon management and reduction technologies.

Achieving such targets also acts as a way of inspiring and motivating students to become more environmentally conscious. Whether Warwick will step up and reach their ambitious target however remains to be seen.


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